This week, Chinese citizens recoiled after learning the story of a man who had baited 500 stray and owned cats with sparrows and other caged birds, captured them, crowded the poor animals into small cages, and made arrangements to sell them to restaurants for human consumption. Authorities discovered a cache of cats in the back of a small truck, close to death and mewing faintly in the heat, the Washington Post reported.
Even though selling dog and cat meat is legal in the country, residents met the news with a mix of surprise and revulsion. Rank-and-file Chinese view dogs and cats as companions and not food, with surveys reinforcing that just a small percentage of people in the country eat dog and cat meat.
Last month, I shared news of a temporary ban on dog meat sales at a controversial festival in Yulin, China, where butchers slaughter thousands of dogs every year. Local government officials have become wary of the international censure this event has brought to the city. Just a week before the festival’s scheduled start date of June 21, a public attitude survey shows that the local community doesn’t buy the argument that the dog meat festival equates to good business.
The survey, conducted by our partners, the Beijing’s Capital Animal Protection Association and Vshine Animal Protection Association, in partnership with the city’s municipal government, found that an overwhelming majority of the city’s residents, 72 percent, do not regularly consume dog meat. Although there is a higher percentage of dog meat eaters in Yulin than in the rest of the country, dog meat consumption is far from a mainstream culinary practice. Many who consume dog meat are chance eaters who eat it unknowingly or accidentally in social gatherings or dinner parties.
The temporary ban on dog meat sales at Yulin is expected to take effect June 15, and it includes heavy penalties for violations. As is so often the case, Chinese officials have not formally confirmed the ban, but multiple organizations on the ground who have spoken to Yulin traders in their own local dialect, have strong reason to believe it’s accurate.
Last year’s festival was a pale version of what it once was after the government disallowed the display of dogs on restaurant tables. This led to a drop in the number of animals killed and visitors to the festival. If this year’s ban on the sale of dog meat in the run-up to the event is properly enforced, it should accelerate the spiraling of the event downward.
Dog meat traders created the Yulin event in 2010, and although they have falsely tried to promote it as a cultural and historical festival, their effort is increasingly seen as a marketing ploy and a concoction. In a turn of fate, it’s actually provided a global rallying cry against the entire dog meat business. The media have publicized images of starving and thirsty dogs, transported over long distances in packed trucks with no access to food or water, and then callously and unceremoniously killed, skinned, and cooked. The whole brew has caused a horribly foul taste in the mouths of dog lovers in China and around the world, and prompted them to step up campaigns everywhere.
In addition to an animal welfare calamity, the festival is also now rightly labeled as a public health threat. China has the second highest number of human rabies cases in the world, and the Guangxi Autonomous Region, where Yulin is located, and the city of Yulin, have historically had China’s highest incidence of rabies. Mass transport, handling, and slaughter expose workers in the dog meat trade, who are mostly unvaccinated, to the deadly disease. The World Health Organization warns that the dog trade spreads rabies and increases the risk of cholera by 20 times.
As China specialist Peter Li of HSI says, eating dogs and cats is not part of China’s mainstream culinary practice, including in Yulin. Many Chinese people find it distasteful to cook dog meat in their own kitchens. The enterprise brings no riches but only opprobrium and disgrace to the participants, and the city of Yulin would be well advised to bring this spectacle to a permanent close and treat the dog-meat enterprise as a sad footnote in the history of this community.